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Pine-Richland School Board keeping status quo with library policy

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - 11/16/2023

Nov. 16—The Pine-Richland school board had a full agenda at the Nov. 13 meeting, but the fate of 12 book titles at the high school and middle schools was top of mind.

In what appeared to be a direct rebuttal to last month's school board meeting, more than 30 people addressed the school board, mostly in opposition to the banning of titles.

"Every person in the community deserves to have access to books that teach people who look like them, feel like them and experience the world as they do," Dr. Allison Bashe, regional clinical director of New Directions Mental Health in Wexford said during the public comment portion of the meeting. "If we remove the resources and demonize normal behavior, that's when we put our student's mental health at risk."

Last month, formal complaints were filed against 12 books available at the Pine-Richland high school and middle school libraries. It was the first complaint the school has received since 2013, according to district superintendent Brian Miller. Nearly a dozen people, including parents, residents and members of clergy spoke at last month's meeting in support of the book banning and questioned the school's policy (Policy 109.1), that allowed the questionable material available at the public school.

Community member Eli Santiago, who also spoke at last month's school board meeting in favor of removing the books in review, said the call to remove the titles was based on the explicit sexual material found in the literature.

"We should have diversity in our reading material," Santiago said Nov. 13. "What we're talking about here is that many of these authors go to extreme lengths to describe in sexually explicit pornographic, obscene language the details of the sex act."

The titles in review are "All Boys Aren't Blue" by George Johnson; "Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out" by Susan Kuklin; "Heartstopper, Volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4" by Alice Oseman; "Nineteen Minutes" by Jodi Picoult; "Out of Darkness" by Ashley Perez; "Push" by Sapphire; "Shine" by Lauren Myracle; "The Bluest Eye; " by Toni Morrison; "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margret Atwood, Margaret (both the book and graphic novel versions) and "Nick and Charlie" by Alice Oseman.

The board decided to not "alter or red-line" policy 109.1, which deals with library materials and the course of action for reconsideration of library materials.

"Just for transparency, we discussed that we met in executive session prior to this," DiTullio said. "There are a number of legal issues that surround this policy that we discussed with our solicitor ... I think that at this point, my opinion would be that there's not anything to vote on."

The current policy states that materials under review will stay in circulation until the complaint is reviewed by a committee comprised of community and staff members.

"The committee will submit their recommendation to the Superintendent or designee," the policy states. "The Superintendent may direct that questionable materials be placed on a limited access shelf pending a final determination. The Superintendent's decision on whether to keep or remove the material from circulation shall be final."

Additionally, school board president Greg DiTullio addressed the issue of people from outside of the school district speaking at board meetings.

"Visitors are requested to state their name and address as members of the community," DiTullio said. "We're not going to check that. I will tell you if you want to lie about where you live because you want to talk at a school board meeting, I'm not going to police you that, but you should be a member of our community to speak or a representative of a community member."

DiTullio was referencing North Carolina resident pastor and conservative activist John K. Amanchukwu Sr., who spoke at the October school board meeting in favor of removing the titles under the pretense of being a community member.

According to the school board policy, public participants be residents or taxpayers of the district or "anyone representing a group or person in the community or school district."

The school board, which will have four brand-new members in January, tabled the discussion to possibly amend the public comment policy for the next administration.

"This is something for the new board to tackle," board member Lisa Hillman said. "But something I'd like to see discussed is what does it mean for somebody to represent someone? I think that's very vague."

Zach Petroff is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Zach at zpetroff@triblive.com.

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